Monday, May 02, 2011
Sermon - Easter 2 - John 20:19-31
May 1st 2011
“The Breath of Life”
This First Sunday after Easter, our Gospel reading takes us to the very first week of Easter. There we see the disciples locked up for fear of the Jews – even though that had seen the risen Jesus already. Even after they had a whole week to sort it out – there was still much unsettled for them. What will the future hold? What does all this mean? Are we safe? Where IS Jesus anyway? To put it simply, they were not at peace.
But then Jesus does what Jesus does. He does a miracle. He speaks a word. And he changes things.
Today we can still recall the Easter celebration as church was packed and trumpets and choirs and processionals all joined to the celebration, and we greeted each other, “Christ is Risen! He is risen indeed, Alleluia!”. But now it's a week later. And life is already getting back to normal. Or is it? We may have some of the same questions as those disciples. We may even have some of their fear.
Maybe we don't feel like Easter has changed all that much. We still sin. We still live like death is in charge. We still act like strangers and enemies of God, every time we break his will for our lives. And we do it every week. Every day. So why did Jesus go to all the trouble? Couldn't he have just skipped the dying and rising and all?
But Jesus still does what Jesus does. He makes his presence known among us. He speaks to us. He changes us.
Jesus appeared to them, miraculously. He didn't sneak in through the back door or window, as John Calvin once suggested. This isn't a group-delusion of those mixed-up and grieving disciples, as some modern scholars would suggest. No, it was the same Jesus who conquered death – he also rules time and space and reality. He does what he wants. He goes where he wants, when he wants.
And he speaks. His first words to those huddled and fearful men who should have known better were not, “you should all know better!” He doesn't scold them or cajole them. He doesn't lay a guilt trip on them for deserting him at Gethsemane. Nor does he give them a pep talk about how it'll all be ok. He gives them his peace.
Now, he's not just saying peaceful words, here. These are words which do something. Jesus words do what they say. When he commands, when he forgives, when he promises – it happens. So these words of peace are not just a kind wish for them, but an extension of his peace. He puts his peace upon them. Just as he does for us.
There's that part of our service, right after the Words of Institution, in which the pastor says, “The Peace of the Lord be with you always”. And most of us well-trained Lutherans want to say right back, “and also with you”. AH! But listen and look carefully. This is not a holy howdy. This is not a greeting from the pastor, but this is the Peace of the Lord himself. This is the peace of Jesus given in his Body and Blood we are about to receive. This is why the proper response at that time is, “Amen”. And yes, I'll be listening.... :)
But Jesus goes on. He brings even more than just peace. He brings proof of who he is – his pierced hands and side – which he would show even to a skeptical Thomas a week later.
He breathes on them. Now you probably wouldn't appreciate your pastor, or anyone, breathing on you. But this is the glorified Jesus, after all. We are instantly reminded of the first time God breathed – it was to bring life to the body of Adam he had formed from the clay. Then there was Elijah's vision in the Valley of Dry Bones – prophesying to the breath – the breath of God which brought life to the lifeless bones of Israel. Now Jesus breathes, and he too brings life.
He who has come back from death, the Living One, he breathes his life upon his people. He breathes his spirit on them – and on us, his holy church. His resurrection, his life, is our only source of life. His breath is our breath. His Spirit is ours. Yes, the word for spirit is the same as the word for wind or breath. All this is ours in Christ.
And along with that Spirit, that Life, that breath, comes forgiveness. He gives his apostles the greatest authority, and the apostolic ministry still exercises it. The power to forgive sins. Your sins. Mine. Far greater than the power to do miracles, or to heal, or even to create. The power to forgive sins is the power to give life. And he gives it to his church, and to his pastors, for the benefit of his people.
When we hear those words of blessing and benediction, “Peace be with you”, Christ is actually giving his peace. When we hear those words, “Your sins are forgiven” he is actually giving his forgiveness. And when he says, “This is my body and blood” it really is too – also for your forgiveness and life.
We don't see him standing here this morning, but as he said to Thomas, even more blessed are those who haven't seen and yet believe. We don't see him in the bread and wine, but we do, by faith. We don't touch his resurrected body, but we receive it in our mouths, by faith.
Even when we are fearful, the risen Jesus still give us his gifts. And so, we are blessed. And so we are at peace. And so we have life, in Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.